That’s not a typo. Thirty. Many years.
Founded in 1926, Asahiya sold meat products from Hyogo prefecture — including Kobe beef — for decades before adding beef croquettes to the shelves in the years after WWII.
But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that these deep-fried potato and beef dumplings became an internet sensation, prompting the long wait shoppers now face.
An unprofitable business idea
The highly coveted “Extreme Croquette” is one of the four types of Kobe beef croquette available at Asahiya. Can’t wait three decades? The Premier Kobe Beef Croquettes store now has an even more impressive four-year waiting list.
“We started selling our products through online shopping in 1999,” explains Shigeru Nitta, the third generation owner of Asahiya. “At that time, we offered Extreme Croquettes as a trial.”
Growing up in Hyogo, Nitta has been visiting local farms and beef auctions with her father since she was young.
He took over the shop from his father in 1994 when he was 30 years old.
After experimenting with e-commerce for several years, he realized customers were hesitant to pay large sums for prime beef online.
Shigeru Nitta is the third generation owner of Asahiya.
That’s when he made a bold decision.
“We sell Extreme Croquettes at a price of JPY270 ($1.8) per piece… The beef in them alone costs about JPY400 ($2.7) per piece,” says Nitta.
“We make affordable and tasty croquettes that demonstrate our shop’s concept as a strategy to have customers enjoy the croquettes and then hope that they will buy our Kobe beef after the first try.”
To limit the financial losses at the beginning, Asahiya only produces 200 croquettes in his own kitchen next to their shop every week.
“We sell beef raised by people we know. Our shop only sells meat produced in Hyogo Prefecture, whether it’s Kobe beef, Kobe pork or Tajima chicken. This has been the style of the shop since before I became the owner.” he said. Nita.
In fact, Nitta’s grandfather used to ride to Sanda — Hyogo’s famous Wagyu breeding area — by bicycle with a wagon to pick up his own produce.
“Because around that time our store had a relationship with a local beef producer, so we didn’t have to get it from outside the prefecture,” added Nitta.
Production boosted but popularity grew
The cheap price tag of Extreme Croquettes flies in the face of quality ingredients. It is made fresh every day without preservatives. Ingredients include three-year-old female A5 grade Kobe beef and potatoes sourced from a local ranch.
Nitta says he has encouraged farms to use cattle manure to grow potatoes. Potato stalks will then be fed to cows, creating a cycle.
Eventually, his unique concept caught the attention of locals and the media. When reports about Asahiya’s croquettes came out in the early 2000s, their popularity skyrocketed.
“We stopped selling them in 2016 because the waiting time was more than 14 years. We were thinking of stopping the order, but we got a lot of calls requesting to keep offering them,” said Nitta.
Extreme croquettes made with three-year-old female A5-ranked Kobe beef.
Asahiya continued to take orders for these croquettes in 2017 but raised the price.
“At that time, we raised the price to JPY500 ($3.4) -JPY540 ($3.7) with consumption tax. But since the export of Kobe beef started, the price of beef has doubled, so the fact that the production of croquettes makes a deficit. It has not changed,” he said Nita.
Production has also been boosted from 200 croquettes a week to 200 croquettes per day.
“In fact, Extreme Croquettes became more popular than any other product,” Nitta chuckled, laughing at her money-losing business idea.
“We heard that we need to hire more people and make croquettes faster, but I don’t think there is a store owner who hires employees and produces more to reduce the deficit… I feel sorry for waiting for them. I want to make croquettes. fast- hurry up and send it as soon as possible, but if I do, the store will go bankrupt.”
Fortunately, Nitta said that about half of the people who try the croquettes end up ordering the Kobe beef, so it’s a good marketing strategy.
Nitta’s mission: Let more people enjoy Kobe beef
Each box of Extreme Croquettes, which includes five pieces, sells for JPY2,700 ($18.40).
The store sends regular newsletters to waiting customers to update them on the latest shipping estimates.
A week before the delivery date, the store will confirm the delivery with the patient customer once again.
“Of course, some people have changed their email address. For those people, we call them directly and let them know the delivery date. They can change their address themselves through our website or if we call them, they can let us know,” said Nitta .
Customers receiving croquettes today placed their orders about 10 years ago.
Having a backlog of unprofitable orders for 30 years can be stressful, especially as Kobe beef prices and labor continue to rise.
But the more important thing has encouraged Nitta to continue.
The wait time for these frozen Extreme Croquettes is about 30 years now.
“When I started selling croquettes on the internet, I got a lot of orders from remote remote islands. Most of them have heard of Kobe beef on TV but never had them because they have to go to the city if they want to try it. that there are so many people who have never had meat Kobe beef.
“That’s why I continue to offer croquettes as a trial and get more orders for Kobe beef if they like it. That’s why I started it in the first place, so I don’t care if it’s a deficit,” Nitta said.
One of their most memorable moments was when they received an order from a cancer patient who was about to be operated on while waiting for their Extreme Croquet.
“I heard that our croquettes are the motivation of the patients to go through the operation. That surprised me the most,” said Nitta.
The patient survived and placed several orders since then.
Nitta received a call from a patient who told her “I wish you a long life without cancer recurrence” after taking a sample of her croquettes.
“I still remember that. I was moved by the comments,” Nitta said.
By allowing more people to enjoy Kobe beef, he hopes the popularity of these croquettes will help promote the local industry.
“I’m grateful. By becoming famous, I think I can help the whole industry, not just my shop, by making people who don’t like Kobe beef like it. I want as many people as possible to eat Kobe beef. — not just from my shop,” said Nitta.
How to sample beef croquettes today
Asahiya currently has two locations: the original store in Takasago City and a store in Kobe city. Their frozen beef croquettes are only shipped domestically.
Although Asahiya primarily operates as a butcher, Nitta said tourists can visit the Kobe store, where they sell two kinds of ready-to-eat snacks, called “Tor Road” and “Kitanozaka” croquettes, named after a nearby street.
“Kitanozaka” uses lean beef and costs JPY360 ($2.5) each. “Tor Road” uses short loin and chuck, and costs JPY460 ($3.1).
“We age the meat for 40 days and the potatoes for a month to make them sweeter,” says Nitta.
As for the future, the 58-year-old owner says they are thinking about expanding.
“I want to make a small space where people can eat a little bit, maybe. Our Kobe store is a tourist attraction,” he said. “But if it becomes a restaurant, our neighbor’s restaurants can interfere because we also provide meat for them.”
Top image credit: Asahiya.